On a day his remark, calling President Droupadi Murmu as “Rashtrapatni”, drew fresh battle line between the BJP and the Congress, the opposition party’s Lok Sabha leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tells MANOJ C.G. that it was a slip of tongue, and the ruling party is using it to “create a fuss only to divert people’s attention from issues such as back-breaking price-rise”. Excerpts:
You were in the eye of the storm today over your ‘Rashtrapatni’ remark for President Droupadi Murmu. Why did you say that?
The BJP has proved itself as a party that can make a mountain out of a molehill. On Wednesday, we had taken a march to Rashtrapati Bhavan, knowing well that we will be prevented from proceeding. For the last over one week, we have been seeking a discussion in Parliament over price-rise, ballooning unemployment, the Agnipath scheme, and misuse of investigative agencies to subjugate opposition parties.
Of these, we were focusing on price-rise. But the government was bent on not allowing a discussion. Meanwhile, our party president Sonia Gandhi was summoned again and again by the ED to harass her and malign the Congress. Naturally we could not remain a mute spectator to this brutal assault on Congress. So we have been fighting for justice — justice for the common people, who are suffering from exorbitant price-rise, and justice for her (Sonia).
While police stopped us at Vijay Chowk, I spoke to a mediaperson — he asked me what our strategy was. I said our agenda was to meet Rashtrapati-ji. I said Rashtrapati twice and the third time I uttered Rashtrapatni. It was a slip of tongue. I realised I had used the wrong word and looked for the reporter (but) could not find him. We were all detained a few minutes later.
Till late night I did not have any indication that this issue has been brimming up in the propaganda chamber of BJP.
The BJP says you deliberately disrespected the President, disrespected the entire tribal community, women, the poor and the downtrodden.
I am a Bengali-speaking person, not adequately proficient in Hindi. I have been trying to speak in Hindi but I don’t have an abundant knowledge of it. It was a slip of tongue. I did not have any evil intention…not even remotely. Just a few days ago, we had all assembled in the Central hall of Parliament when Madam Droupadi Murmu took oath. I have the highest respect for the post of President. I have the highest respect for women. How can I dishonour the highest constitutional post of our country, irrespective of whosoever is the occupant? The BJP created a fuss only to divert people’s attention from issues such as backbreaking price-rise.
What was the conversation between you and your party leadership once the issue came up in Lok Sabha?
During Question Hour, whenever we try to raise any issue of public importance, we are not allowed. The ruling side used to sermonize us that no other issue can be raised during Question Hour…. But today, in violation of all those sermons, Union minister Smriti Irani took the lead and started hurling allegations against me and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In almost a predetermined move, BJP MPs started shouting…
The BJP members kept on harping that Madam Murmu is from tribal community and I have insulted a tribal person. Remember, the UPA under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership enacted the Right to Forests Act. If anyone took special care of India’s tribal population, it was the UPA.
Now, under NDA, the forest Act is being diluted to serve business interests of a select few industrialists.
When Irani attacked me by taking my name, I got up and sought my right to reply. I was denied the opportunity and the House was adjourned until noon.
Later, I went to the Speaker, pleading with him to allow me to reply to the allegations raised against me. Sonia Gandhi, too, went to the Speaker. (She) told him that “Adhir should be given the opportunity to reply”. It is a red-letter day in my Parliamentary career. Today I felt I was not an orphan…I have a guardian in Sonia Gandhi.
You put out a video in between, expressing regret. Did the party leadership ask you to do so?
There is no question of apologising to hypocrites (BJP). I clearly stated that it was a slip of tongue. I am not conversant with Hindi. It was a slip of tongue; I had no evil intention. The leader of my party is a woman. How can I disrespect women? They (BJP members) are paying lip service to tribals. I challenge them to have a threadbare discussion in Parliament about the status of tribals under the NDA.
What happened in the House then?
The BJP members raised the issue again. Usually the House is adjourned by intervention of the Opposition. But today the Treasury benches disrupted proceedings. After the House was adjourned, BJP members started shouting slogans against Sonia Gandhi, demanding her apology. The offence, provided it is an offence, has been committed by me. Why talk about her? I am there to be punished. She had nothing to do with it. Why was she targeted?
Meanwhile, Sonia Gandhi walked across the aisle and asked BJP member Rama Devi…why they were shouting slogans against her. Irani unceremoniously intervened. Her gesticulation towards Sonia Gandhi was so rough, unsavoury, uncouth. BJP male MPs also surrounded her. She was treated in a very bad manner. It was a serious violation of privileges that an MP is supposed to enjoy. Other women MPs from parties like TMC and NCP intervened and escorted her out of the House.
I, along with other Congress members, met Speaker Om Birla and handed over a letter urging him to investigate the entire matter and those alleged members should be suspended.